Presentation Title

Participating in the Organization Narrative: An Examination of Myth in ACLU Membership Emails

Presentation Type

Oral Presentation

Abstract/Artist Statement

After the 2016 presidential election, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was among a number of advocacy focused nonprofit organizations that experienced a surge in donations. Nonprofit advocacy organizations play an important role in informing and engaging the public, and setting agendas for what issues become prominent and are deemed important in American public life. From its position as a powerful and well-established organization, analyzing how the ACLU communicates to members about the civil liberties conflicts within the current administration is a fruitful exploration of potentially effective organizational communication, as well as an important insight in to a key political influencer in the United States. It was found that ACLU email communications to members function persuasively because they are consistent with the overarching hero myth narrative of the organization.

The literature demonstrates that narratives are key components of communication. According to the narrative paradigm, humans understand reality through communicating stories that make sense to them and support their experiences. Organizations also use stories to similarly understand and communicate their work. The most persuasive stories are those that ring true to most people. Myths are stories that follow accepted archetypal structures that almost everyone is familiar with (e.g., good wins over evil, hard work pays off). A narrative analysis of the plot, characters, and settings was used to analyze eleven ACLU emails sent to members in regards to the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and contrasted with the “About” section of the ACLU website. It was found that in both the “About” information and the set of emails the ACLU uses the hero myth, where the organization is engaged in a just battle for what is good, in this case liberty and freedom. It was found that the emails engage members by persuasively inviting them to cast themselves as characters in the hero myth along side the organization and take action offline (by donating money or calling their elected officials) in the same way that their characters jump into the excitement of the fight. ACLU member emails persuaded supporters to view their action as meaningful through inviting them to see themselves in the hero myth.

This research helps to fill a gap in the organization communication literature regarding narratives used externally in member communications. Not only is a narrative analysis a unique approach when applied to external communications, but it also provides a deeper understanding of how organizational narratives can function persuasively. This research also helps to provide more information about the communication strategies of ACLU and similar organizations, which are also underrepresented in the literature. Advocacy nonprofits in general but especially the ACLU play a powerful role in American politics and public life. So notably, the way they frame issues has a broader impact on public understanding of current events. The ACLU reinforces broad cultural narratives, like the hero myth, by drawing on those stories in their member communications, contributing to the understanding of issues of justice and the legal system as a battle scene or a fight, or a struggle between good and evil. This analysis is important because the ACLU is an influential actor in communicating the stories that citizens believe, both in the sense of myths and current events.

Mentor Name

Joel Iverson

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Feb 22nd, 11:00 AM Feb 22nd, 11:15 AM

Participating in the Organization Narrative: An Examination of Myth in ACLU Membership Emails

UC 331

After the 2016 presidential election, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was among a number of advocacy focused nonprofit organizations that experienced a surge in donations. Nonprofit advocacy organizations play an important role in informing and engaging the public, and setting agendas for what issues become prominent and are deemed important in American public life. From its position as a powerful and well-established organization, analyzing how the ACLU communicates to members about the civil liberties conflicts within the current administration is a fruitful exploration of potentially effective organizational communication, as well as an important insight in to a key political influencer in the United States. It was found that ACLU email communications to members function persuasively because they are consistent with the overarching hero myth narrative of the organization.

The literature demonstrates that narratives are key components of communication. According to the narrative paradigm, humans understand reality through communicating stories that make sense to them and support their experiences. Organizations also use stories to similarly understand and communicate their work. The most persuasive stories are those that ring true to most people. Myths are stories that follow accepted archetypal structures that almost everyone is familiar with (e.g., good wins over evil, hard work pays off). A narrative analysis of the plot, characters, and settings was used to analyze eleven ACLU emails sent to members in regards to the Justice Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and contrasted with the “About” section of the ACLU website. It was found that in both the “About” information and the set of emails the ACLU uses the hero myth, where the organization is engaged in a just battle for what is good, in this case liberty and freedom. It was found that the emails engage members by persuasively inviting them to cast themselves as characters in the hero myth along side the organization and take action offline (by donating money or calling their elected officials) in the same way that their characters jump into the excitement of the fight. ACLU member emails persuaded supporters to view their action as meaningful through inviting them to see themselves in the hero myth.

This research helps to fill a gap in the organization communication literature regarding narratives used externally in member communications. Not only is a narrative analysis a unique approach when applied to external communications, but it also provides a deeper understanding of how organizational narratives can function persuasively. This research also helps to provide more information about the communication strategies of ACLU and similar organizations, which are also underrepresented in the literature. Advocacy nonprofits in general but especially the ACLU play a powerful role in American politics and public life. So notably, the way they frame issues has a broader impact on public understanding of current events. The ACLU reinforces broad cultural narratives, like the hero myth, by drawing on those stories in their member communications, contributing to the understanding of issues of justice and the legal system as a battle scene or a fight, or a struggle between good and evil. This analysis is important because the ACLU is an influential actor in communicating the stories that citizens believe, both in the sense of myths and current events.